Fisherman risks life in torpedo drama off Beachy Head

Torpedo found by fisherman off Beachy Head
Torpedo found by fisherman off Beachy Head

A FISHERMAN risked his life to approach a potentially lethal 20ft torpedo before hauling it out of one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.

A Mark 9 torpedo bobbed to the surface about five miles off Beachy Head at around 10.30am on Tuesday (February 8).

The skipper of the Royal Sovereign 60ft fishing vessel, which moors in Sovereign Harbour, spotted the floating explosive, dated 1954, close to where huge tankers carry their cargo and a few miles from the Newhaven to Dieppe ferry path.Heroic Peter Storey, pictured right, edged the vessel closer – not knowing whether the torpedo was live – and took a photograph on his mobile phone, which he sent to Dover’s coastguard. The coastguard alerted the Royal Navy in Portsmouth, who established the drifting object was the air pressure and engine section of a torpedo without its explosive warhead. Mr Storey, 64, lashed a rope to the weapon and towed it clear of danger.He said, “It could have been dangerous because it would have drifted into the shipping lanes.”

But the tale doesn’t end there because the warhead is possibly in that location and somewhere out there is a quarter of a ton of TNT and it’s waiting for someone else to pick it up.”

Mr Storey anchored the torpedo – which was missing its engine and explosives – to several bouys outside the Sovereign Harbour Marina at 6pm while the bomb disposal unit travelled to the Harbour to inspect it. A spokesperson for the Royal Navy said it was too dark for divers from Southern Diving Unit 2 (SDU2) to begin their inspection when they arrived later that night.

At first light on Wednesday morning it was hauled onto the marina’s dockside and given the all-clear.

Lieutenant Commander Alan Nekrews of SDU2 said, “There are lots of old ordnance found along our coastal areas so it is not that unusual to find this type of thing. “The important thing is that there was no warhead attached so it didn’t have any explosive elements – we could see this from the images we were sent and then we certified the fact that it was safe when we made an inspection.”

Mr Storey was out with his four-man crew to the east of his usual fishing spot, reeling in 1,000 whelk pots when one of his 10 lines snagged on something on the seabed. He believes it could have either been this or five days of stormy weather which caused the torpedo to surface.

“I have been fishing around here for 40 years and I’ve never see anything like it. It was an unusual day that’s for sure,” said Mr Storey.

The barnacle-covered torpedo has been handed over to the Eastbourne RNLI who removed it from the harbour on Thursday (February 9).

Coxswain Mark Sawyer hopes to put it on display in Eastbourne or pass it on to a maritime museum.